Ten years ago, when he started Driveline Baseball as a hobby to help young players learn more about baseball, Kyle Boddy held true a few absolute principles. The sport was rapidly evolving toward a harder-throwing game, and he would teach people to unlock the full potential of their arm. The democratization offered by the internet would serve as a perfect conduit to spread his gospel to the masses. And most of all, professional baseball’s development system was broken, filled with blissfully ignorant executives too hubristic to understand where the game was headed.
Boddy’s first and second dicta proved undeniably true — and set the stage for a transformation of the third that Tuesday finally ensnared him. After years of consulting for teams as Driveline grew from a simple blog into the game’s foremost training facility and think tank, Boddy did what he once considered unthinkable: join a professional organization.
The 36-year-old and the Cincinnati Reds agreed on a two-year contract Tuesday to install Boddy as the team’s director of pitching initiatives and pitching coordinator. He will work with Caleb Cotham, the team’s new director of pitching and a longtime Driveline trainee, to overhaul the organization’s minor league pitching development.
In 2013, when Driveline had grown from a blog into a small business with a handful of professional baseball clients operating out of grimy second-floor warehouse space in suburban Seattle, Boddy said: “You can only learn you hate pro ball one way: by working in it.” Since then, Major League Baseball teams have embraced its principles as well as its adherents, hiring more than a dozen Driveline-trained coaches in player-development positions as the industry embraced the deeply analytical approach Boddy spearheaded.
After waffling the past two years over whether to move from consultant to employee, Boddy interviewed in recent months with teams and sought a specific role in which he would oversee the pitching development while maintaining his job as president and director of pitching at Driveline. The Reds acceded, as Boddy’s longtime relationship with their major league pitching coach, Derek Johnson, would help ease the transition.
In his first season with the team this year, Johnson oversaw a pitching staff that cut its ERA from 4.63 to 4.18. The Reds hope Boddy can provide similar improvements in preparing minor league pitchers for the big leagues.
“The vision is right,” Boddy said. “They’re willing to make large changes. When I spoke to the front office, they’re interested in a unified decision-making model from top to bottom. The idea that it’s going to be a consistent message and they’re making big changes was something no team was interested in doing fast. Most other teams wanted to ease into it.
“The biggest lessons I’ve learned both at Driveline and elsewhere is front offices want coaches to have key performance indicators and coaches want clear messages and know what’s expected of them. That’s what I’m going to do. ‘This is what we stand for in the minor leagues. This is what Derek Johnson wants in the major leagues. And this is what we’re going to do.'”
While Boddy’s initial foray into pitching development focused on the use of weighted balls to increase velocity, Driveline’s objectives in recent years have grown. The proliferation of high-speed cameras and spin-measuring devices such as the Rapsodo have optimized the ability for players to understand what their pitches are capable of doing — and how to change them. Player development, as captured in Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s book “The MVP Machine,” is today far more science than art. Organizations slow to embrace it fall behind.
The Houston Astros, for whom Boddy consulted, were among the progenitors of this Moneyball 2.0 approach, forsaking some traditional scouting tenets for the cold, calculation analysis data offered. The Astros won the World Series in 2017 and are favorites to win again this season.
“When the Astros won, people started asking very difficult questions about player development and scouting,” Boddy said. “I think that’s what’s changed. My conversations with pro ball morphed from ‘we’ll use him as a contractor and we can get some of our organizational players better’ to a real systems-led approach. When I saw pro ball going in that direction, I wanted to be part of that. If we’re going to care about everyone in the organization and getting value out of the entire player pool, I’m in.
“These players matter. They’re really good. They deserve a roadmap to be the best they can. Now pro ball is starting to buy into that.”
Having full control over the organization’s pitching philosophy was a must-have element for Boddy to consider joining a team, and that his ideals dovetail with those of Cotham and Johnson — whom he met when Johnson was pitching coach at Vanderbilt, arguably the top college baseball program in the country — was paramount. Other organizations, Boddy said, offered more money but wanted him to give up his role at Driveline. Instead, he hopes this sets a new standard, in which Driveline instructors can work for teams while still participating in the research and player development at the company, which welcomes dozens of professional players from multiple organizations every offseason for training, as well as a host of Seattle-area kids and other amateur players who fly in from around the country.
“It’s important we do both,” Boddy said. “I would say to major league teams if you want to hire Driveline employees it’s going to be on these terms. It’s going to be a good job and it’s going to work for both sides.”
Boddy sees the pitching-coordinator role not as a super-coach for players but as someone who can “coach the coaches” at each minor league affiliate and ensure they’re instilling principles that behoove Johnson. Those coaches, Boddy said, could come from anywhere. Boddy is a college dropout card shark who taught himself about pitching while working as a network analyst at Microsoft. The path into baseball is no longer necessarily paved through time spent playing the game.
“I will be scouring Twitter,” Boddy said, “for the next pitching coaches with the Reds.”